Pearls in shell

Pearl: The June Birthstone

June Birthstone: Pearl

Color: Pearls take their color from the inside of the shell in which they are grown. While most pearls are naturally white, some pearls like Tahitians comes in white, pink, silver, cream, brown, green, blue, black and yellow – all natural colors. The unique luster of pearls depends upon the reflection, refraction, and diffraction of light from the translucent layers. The thinner and more numerous the layers in the pearl, the finer the luster. The iridescence that pearls display is caused by the overlapping of successive layers, which breaks up light falling on the surface. The most valuable pearls are perfectly symmetrical, relatively large and naturally produced.

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Origins: Pearls are the only gemstone made by living animals. Akoya or saltwater pearls come from oysters, but freshwater pearls usually come from mussels, although all mollusks can make pearls. Natural pearls have been harvested from the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Mannar (Indian Ocean), and the Red Sea for thousands of years. The coasts of Polynesia and Australia produce mainly cultured pearls. Both freshwater and saltwater pearls are cultivated in Japan and China. Freshwater pearls occur in the rivers of Scotland, Ireland, France, Austria, Germany, and the United States (Mississippi).

History: Pearls have always been popular. Even during Roman times, women of the privileged class were adorned with the natural gemstone. The Persian Gulf was one of the main sources of natural pearls for centuries. The demand for pearls dropped when diamonds were discovered in the early 1700s. Christopher Columbus and Vasco de Balboa discovered that Venezuela and Panama were excellent sources of pearls. In the early 1900s, three Japanese men had all independently discovered the secret of culturing pearls.  Eventually, Kokichi Mikimoto bought out the rights of the other two and started his premier brand of Japanese saltwater cultured Akoya pearls.

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Fun Facts:

  • The English word pearl comes from the French perle, originally from the Latin perna meaning leg, after the ham- or mutton leg-shaped bivalve.
  • The oldest known pearl jewelry fragment was found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess who died in 520 B.C.
  • Virtually all new pearls today are cultured or cultivated. Harvesting natural pearls were compromised by water pollution, tsunamis, and other phenomena that made it difficult to leave the oysters safely in the water long enough to create sizeable pearls.
  • In Spanish, la peregrina means the pilgrim and this stunning pearl was also known as the Phillip II pearl. This pearl’s perfect pear shape and the bright white color was the most celebrated pearl of its time. In 1969, La Peregrina was purchased for a mere $37,000 by actor Richard Burton as a gift for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor. It was sold by Christie’s in 2011 for $11.8 million.
  • Cleopatra won a bet that she could provide Marc Antony with a banquet costing more than the assets of a country. She took off a pearl earring, dissolved it in wine and drank it.
  • The Roman general Vitellius is said to have financed an entire military campaign by selling just one of his mother’s pearl earrings.
  • In 1916, Jacques Cartier bought his Fifth Avenue store by trading two pearl necklaces for the land.
  • Early Chinese mythology had pearls falling as rain when dragons fought and the Greeks believed that pearls were the tears of gods.
  • Mikimoto is reputed to have swallowed two pearls every day of his life from the time he was 20 to maintain and improve his health. The Chinese have also used pearls medicinally for thousands of years.
  • The Pearl of Lao Tzu is the largest (14.1 pound, 9.45 inches in diameter) known pearl in the world and was found in the Philippines. It is not considered a gemstone because it comes from a clam rather than an oyster.
  • In 2013 Michelle Obama was presented with a triple strand, hand-strung 10mm pearl necklace with a handmade USA clasp at the annual First Lady’s Luncheon. This patriotic pearl necklace was created especially for Mrs. Obama by the jewelers at Gem Shopping Network.

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Hardness:      2.5 – 4.5

Care: Pearls are made primarily of calcium carbonate and they can be dissolved in simple acidic compounds such as vinegar.  Pearls will stay cleaner if you put them on after you’ve applied your makeup and perfume. Wipe your pearls with a soft, lint-free cloth as soon as you take them off. The cloth can be dampened with water or dry. If damp, allow the pearls to air dry before putting them away. Dirty pearls can be cleaned with a mild soap and water solution. Never clean your pearls with solutions that contain ammonia or harsh detergents. Never put pearl jewelry in an ultrasonic cleaner. Don’t store your pearls with other jewelry because they easily scratch.

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